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Senior Physics Major Wins Prize for his Creativity

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    Pelham Keahey receives the first Walt Potter Prize from Joey King. At left is Potter, who served as King's mentor when he was a student at Southwestern (Photo by Lucas Adams).

Pelham Keahey is the first recipient of a new prize sponsored by the King Creativity Fund

Four years of participating in the King Creativity Fund program has paid off for senior physics major Pelham Keahey.

Keahey received the program’s first Walt Potter Prize, which comes with $2,500. The prize is awarded to the best student or project in a given year.

Keahey received the award at a dinner marking the 10th anniversary of the King Creativity Fund. The program was established in 2000 with an endowment provided by Southwestern alumnus W. Joseph “Joey” King. It is designed to support “innovative and visionary projects” proposed by Southwestern students.

King named the new award after Walt Potter, a computer science professor who was his mentor when he was a student at Southwestern.

Keahey applied for and received a King Creativity Fund grant each of his four years at Southwestern. The first two years, he used the money to build a low-cost solar water heater. Last year, he used the money to build a Ruben’s Tube, which enables people to “see” different sound waves by means of flames coming up through holes in the tube. This project was done in collaboration with physics majors Christopher Elliott, Will Hardy, Audrey Olena and Sean Smith.

This year, Keahey received a grant to build a new type of apparatus for the detection and identification of microorganisms. The project was done in collaboration with physics majors Will Hardy and Mason Cradit, biology major Andrea Holland, chemistry major Steven Solis, and Gerald Wade, shop manager for the Fondren Jones Science Center. The device could enable doctors to prescribe specific treatments sooner, since current methods for detecting which pathogen has caused an infection can take from three days to several weeks.

“I couldn’t think of a better person to give this award to,” King said. “It has been wonderful to watch Pelham since he was a first-year student.”

Keahey said his most recent project helped him decide on his career goals. He now wants to attend graduate school for biomedical engineering. He plans to apply to Rice University after taking a year off. He said he is not sure yet how he will spend the prize money.